Konkona Sen Sharma is regarded as one of the best actors in Bollywood, but ironically doesn’t act in many Hindi films - her last full-length movie was 2015’s “Talwar”. She directed her first feature film, “A Death In The Gunj”, last year and is now back with a role in Alankrita Shrivastava’s “Lipstick Under My Burkha”.
Sen Sharma, who plays a Muslim mother who is desperate to break the shackles of her conservative existence, spoke to Reuters about the film, why a female perspective is important in movies and whether she thinks she will sit behind the camera again.
Q: How did you come to be a part of “Lipstick Under My Burkha”?
A: I knew (director) Alankrita from earlier on because we had common friends. I heard she was writing this film and when I read the script, I loved it. It was very well thought-out and felt like a recounting of lived experiences even though she could not have lived these four lives. It felt like an intimate glance at the lives of these four women, and we don’t see that very often in our cinema.
Q: We see Bollywood films about the bond between men but hardly anything that showcases sisterhood…
A: The discrimination that women face cuts across nationality, caste or class and age. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have, women have always been dictated to about what they should wear and how they should behave. That is what we have in common with these characters and women across the world. Also, I think we don’t get to see the lives of older women (in our films). We see women in their late teens or early 20s, which is such a small section of society. There are so many more complex stories to tell. Shireen Aslam, the woman I play in the film, is in her 30s and has three children. That kind of context is not seen very often in films. She’s not a shrill feminist – she has to pick her battles. These are her givens and she has to see how she can achieve her goals in finding loopholes. It is a very interesting way of trying to reclaim agency.
Q: A lot of the conversation around the success of the new “Wonder Woman” film revolved around the female gaze and the politics of how women are portrayed in films. Do you think the female perspective matters?
A: I think the female gaze is important because we cannot have just one perspective on anything. We have been seeing cinema from a male perspective for a very long time and there are things which are given, which are allowed and things which are normalised, like harassment or stalking - not just in films, but in ads or music videos. We haven’t seen as much from a female perspective. But one of the most important things in feminism is choice. And because women should have choice, we cannot force them to be feminists. They can choose to be regressive if they want. Therefore, it is not incumbent on women to make feminist films or films about women, but there should be a lot more women film-makers, regardless.
Q: Do you find it difficult to accept roles that don’t conform to your views on feminism or gender?
A: As a working actor, I don’t have a lot of choice. There was a time when I got varied film offers. But nowadays, I don’t get a lot interesting characters to play at all.
Q: Why is that?
A: So many things (Sighs). It could be that I have been around for longer and am older. It could be that we are not interested in telling stories about women in their 30s. Some films follow a certain formula. If you see films which have been successful over the last 10 years, the women in them have been in their 20s. “The Dirty Picture” and “English Vinglish” are two I can think of. But there are very few good roles for women in their 30s.
Q: Are you looking to direct again?
A: I would like to, but I hope I find something that I feel strongly about as I did about Shutu and McCluskieganj. I don’t want to make just anything. I also want to do some interesting acting work, so I hope I get that. Many times, one does get interesting work, but it is also work that doesn’t get funded because one sure-shot way to get funding is to take a big star… People who fund films have to be able to take risks, even if they are smaller risks. And audiences have to go out and watch these films. Otherwise we cannot make them.
Editing by David Lalmalsawma